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Erik Trautman

Technical entrepreneurship, business strategy and product development

Hedgehog diagram professions

The Hedgehog Model for Decision Making

I'm a huge fan of any models that find applicability beyond their intended domains and there are few quite as versatile and useful as The Hedgehog Model.

In his seminal book "Good to Great", Jim Collins examines 1,435 businesses over a period of 40 years in order to answer the question "what separates the good companies from those which make the leap and become great companies?" Over the course of his analysis, he uncovers a variety of factors that drive this distinction but one of the most fundamental concepts he explains is "the Hedgehog".

This idea is based on a fragment attributed to the ancient Greek poet Archilochus which says "a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing." Both these animals have survived successfully by deploying greatly different strategies. The fox is clever -- she knows a great many things and tends to rely on her intelligence to hunt and survive. The hedgehog is a far simpler creature -- when she is threatened, the hedgehog simply curls up into a ball and points her spines outwards.


Cropped ironman triumph

I am Ironman.

At 7:41:10pm On July 29th, 2017 I slowed to a halt, put up my hands and wept. I could barely breathe after the deceleration but didn't care because I'd stepped into the moment I'd visualized 10,000 times and it was every bit as sweet as I'd hoped.

This was a moment to culminate the most difficult challenge I've ever undertaken in the course of my life -- and ever hope to. The Ironman triathlon, commonly known as the most challenging single day sporting event in the world, is something so stupidly crazy that it prompts concerned looks and a whole lot of "why?". No one questions any more if you decide to train for a marathon but this mother of all triathlons is that and more -- a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bicycle ride followed by a full 26.2 mile marathon.

This 140.6 mile course is the most challenging thing I could possibly imagine a human being voluntarily doing and that's frankly much of its appeal.



Micro Resolution: Communication Patterns

A respected friend and academic was speaking about something personal. I wish I could recall what it was but the only thing I can remember about the conversation is how incredibly often she used -- clearly without noticing -- the word "like". It was placeholder, punctuation, and security blanket in one. When this person wrote, I knew, it was clear, eloquent and incisive. When she spoke, she undermined every phrase with disqualifiers, fuzzy words and, of course, "like".

I couldn't help myself... I started counting. She used "like" 13 times in one single sentence. Hearing that broke something in my ability to flow with normal conversation and I began noticing similar things that I never had before. It quickly became apparent how important subtle (and not-so-subtle) communication patterns are in determining a speaker's credibility and impact. A few of these stand out more than the rest.


Zyglis trump

Trump, The Long Con and the Great Con

The proper way to start a conversation in San Francisco during the past couple of weeks has been to ask "how are you holding up?" A palpable sense of pain, disbelief and fear has captured the city since the recent and historic upset in the presidential election. To those outside the city this may seem like an excessive comparison, but I honestly haven't felt a sense of shared loss and mourning like this in the 15 years since the national tragedy of 9/11.

I knew this outcome was a possibility, especially given the trends of the previous few weeks and the dangers of voting between such deeply unfavorable candidates. On the trading floor, you have to develop a healthy appreciation for clear signals that "the market" is trending away from what you consider to be "the fundamentals". In this election, it felt like sentiment was divorcing aggressively from fact but, until the very end, it still seemed like the results would be forgotten as just a painful close call.


Rocky ii training montage

Those who Challenge

A common saying holds that you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with. More simply, the people you surround yourself with matter. They are the sounding boards for your ideas and the key forces which shape your growth.

Growth is achieved only when you are challenged. It isn't a single-track process but occurs across four dimensions (which are simply the four dimensions of self):

  1. Physical
  2. Intellectual
  3. Emotional
  4. Spiritual

Most of the challenges you will receive across these dimensions are laid extrinsically by others because it's basically impossible to change a system without some form of external stimulus. People can challenge you via three modalities:

  1. Inspiration: They inspire you by exhibiting a behavior you aspire to enable in yourself.
  2. Collaboration: They offer to work with you towards a shared goal.
  3. Direct Challenge: They lay a gauntlet at your feet and say "show me".

Inspiration is the wind at your back and it's maximized by putting yourself in an environment where you are constantly inspired by the people around you. Moving to San Francisco and choosing to live in a co-op based around the goal of "mutually assured non-complacency" were two big steps towards my doing this and I'm endlessly curious to find people who inspire me, whether they are intellectuals, artists, entrepreneurs, or pretty much anyone living their life fully engaged.


Xkcd philosophy (1)

Startup Depression and the Search for Meaning

TLDR: I actually expected to get depressed, it still surprised me when it finally happened and I'm rather suspicious of its apparent resolution.

A few weeks ago, I couldn't focus, get stuff done, or even remember simple things. Work felt purposeless. Relationships seemed shallow and fleeting. I couldn't get more than nominally excited about things I'd normally jump to do. I felt like a ship drifting without an anchor, unable to latch onto anything for stability despite the supposed familiarity of the surrounding landmarks. All the usual ways I might find comfort -- leaning on community, taking pleasure in the challenge of work, experiencing the wonder of the outdoors -- were bereft of their power.

It sucked and it had been building for months.

For the last couple of years, I've kept a wary eye on my mental health. You probably know that I'm an incessantly optimistic ball of energy, particularly when you're still groggy from lack of coffee in the morning. I have a high natural frequency and, for the last several years, I've chased the high-energy thrill of starting a business with reckless abandon. At the same time, I've also been keenly aware of the phenomenon of "Startup Depression". I've seen a number of friends spiral, sometimes for many months, through deep bouts of depression that seem to counterbalance their otherwise ebullient energy.


Trump clinton

The First Presidential Debate: Clinton / Trump

I woke up nervous about what would happen during tonight's debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. There were no specific details on which my dread hung but it was instead an undefined sense of foreboding driven by the knowledge that the risk profiles of the two candidates were asymmetric. Specifically, it felt like Clinton had very little to gain and everything to lose from going toe-to-toe with the unpredictable Trump. I left the debate feeling relieved on one level but also tugged by a nagging anxiety.

There is a lot at stake in this election and this was the biggest debate matchup in history. Frankly, I think it went about as well as could be expected for each candidate without a major screw-up from the other. Contrary to potential worst-case scenarios, Clinton didn't get overrun and Trump didn't completely melt down. They each played their parts well.


Silicon valley

Startup Addiction

My work/life balance sucks.

I plan my weekends off like you'd normally plan vacations because they occur with roughly the same frequency. I don't get to see my family or friends nearly as much as I'd like and when I do it's often in a very timeboxed fashion that doesn't leave enough room for serendipity. I've seen our coworking space at all hours of the day and night and share a special connection with the handful of others who regularly do the same. I have a growing list of hobbies and events that I want to do or try that never gets any shorter. I suck at spontaneity now. I started booking meetings 5 minutes shorter just so I'd have time to run to the restroom or grab a bite between them.

This typically looks like a recipe for a painfully sad existence.

I've never felt more stimulated or alive.


Viking code school

A Quick Preview of the Viking Code School

It's been some time since I had 10 minutes free to write. Well, that's not true... by my count, I've written over 800 pages of text and recorded dozens of hours of video in the last 4 months but that's exactly the problem. There's not a lot of room in the margins for creative expression when you're teaching a cohort of students, writing curriculum, managing a team, growing a business and trying to learn how coffee works.

The Viking Code School is the full consumption of my soul right now and rightly so. I'll give it far more just treatment when I'm able but, for now, suffice it to say that it represents the marriage of 2 years of hard work with a lifetime of dreaming about making impactful changes in education.

We're building a highly focused online coding bootcamp that's the first of its kind -- it combines the rigorous and collaborative nature of an in-person bootcamp with the reach of the online medium. We're educating prospective developers and entrepreneurs who want to take their ideas to reality.



Entrepreneurial Epiphanies #4: Do Nothing Quietly

Since I struck out on my own to build a business, I've banged my head on countless metaphorical low-hanging beams, taken the proverbial rake to the face at least weekly, and otherwise made just about every mistake in the book. But, despite the cost, I've actually learned a thing or two along the way. Hopefully you won't make the same mistakes. Actually, you will, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Last Tuesday we launched beta for The Odin Project, a website where you can learn web development for free. The launch went well -- to focus solely on users, we got >10k visits converting to >1k new students in just two days -- and it hammered in an epiphany that I first had in September of 2013: Do nothing quietly!

There are a lot of expressions out there which capture pieces of this mentality, like "Fail early and often", but I like the directness of "Do nothing quietly". This is very counter to the mantra of the engineer: "head down, get shit done". Engineering culture has little love for self promotion, bold (unsupported) claims or anything to do with PR. But, to build an effective business, you've got to get over it and make sure people know about your idea.